John McKinley Band – Window On The World
12 songs – 50 minutes
Now based in Kitchener, Ontario, a short drive from Toronto, singer/guitarist/songwriter John McKinley certainly must have a different outlook now than he did growing up in Roswell, N.M., as the title of this debut CD seems to indicate.
Influenced by Freddie King, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa and Robben Ford as well as Texas rockers ZZ Top, McKinley cut his teeth in the rich music scene of the American Southwest, but relocated to the Canadian city in the ‘80s when bassist Pino Palladino – who’s worked with David Gilmour, Pete Townshend and Peter Gabriel – invited him to join his band. Despite being the front man on an album here for the first time in his 50s, he’s beloved in his adopted hometown both for his playing ability and his willingness to mentor younger musicians.
His playing style touches on Texas-style blues-rock and groove/funk while incorporating a strong dose of Latin influence because of his Mexican-American roots. A 2013 recipient of the Mel Brown Award at the Kitchener Blues Festival – named for the legendary bluesman who also called the city home – McKinley wrote all of the material on Window On The World, assisted by son Darius, who handles bass duties.
Rounding out the three-piece unit is veteran drummer Ben Rollo with special guest appearances by engineer Craig McNair and producer/engineer Darryl Romphf and The Divines – Danica Guenette, Wendy Tozer and Emily Barkley — (backing vocals), Danny Castro (percussion), Scott Galloway (keyboards), Melissa Barry (violin), and Rachel Lee Cousineau (vocal on the traditional Native American song “Nibi,” which is incorporated to conclude the final cut). Although uncredited in the liner notes, Romphf also contributes on second guitar.
McKinley wastes no time putting his six-string mastery on display for the first cut, “Dirty Nails.” He explodes out of the box with an extended solo in the song, which is an instrumental blues-rocker. The band gets funky for “One A Ponce A Time,” delivered with nursery rhyme imagery and the drums high in the mix as it describes problems in a relationship with the instruction to follow your heart. Despite the differences in attack from one tune to the next, they fit seamlessly.
“Welfare Mama” is another rocker in Lone Star vein with a Zappa-style guitar solo. In it, McKinley wryly hopes that the woman’s brought her government check. The psychedelic instrumental “Stratitude” precedes “Cuando Yo Me Voy (I’m Outta’ Here),” in which rock meets Mexico head on. Another powerful contribution from the rhythm section drives “Rev It Up” before McKinley’s attack softens again for the loping blues “Keep The Door Cracked Open,” a promise to return home.
The slow blues “P-Nutt-Butt-Ah” describes how a $100 woman and a $50 man meet in the middle to execute their financial plan before the fast shuffle “Life’s A Bitch” relates how different folks describe personal troubles. It contrasts dramatically with “Cool Night Breeze,” a melodic medium shuffle propelled by slide guitar. The Texas-style rocker “Passionate Man” and “Ontarian Song,” an instrumental for McKinley’s new homeland that combines acoustic and electric elements, conclude the set.
Available as a download through iTunes or as a CD through a link on the band website (address above), Window On The World proves that McKinley has plenty to say with his six-string, interspersing one style of music with another. After 30-plus years on stage, it’s about time. Interesting throughout.